Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rocket City Marathon 3h:26m:42s

The Rocket City Marathon was my last marathon event on the calendar for 2010. My experience with the marathon this year has been both exciting and frustrating. In 2009 I had a break through marathon in Des Moines and covered the distance in 3 hours, 22 minutes, and 41 seconds. That performance was a 15 minute improvement on my previous best marathon time. Following Des Moines I fell into some negative thinking and lost confidence that I would ever be able to improve on that performance or even repeat it. To avoid disappointment, part of me didn’t want to ever race another marathon. I was open to running another marathon, but I was closing down to the thought of giving the distance another race effort. My thinking can be witnessed in my 2009 end of the year posting wherein I published these thoughts: “I see 2010 as being primarily about Rob-the-Runner, not Rob-the-Racer. The temptation to obsess about efficiency has lost its appeal. No-need-for-speed is likely a mantra that I will be employing often in 2010. I have no intentions of attempting to run a Boston-Qualifying marathon this year. When it comes to participating in events, I find myself primarily attracted to ultra-marathons. Coming into 2009 I was dreaming of doing the marathoning in 50 states thing, coming into 2010 the dream has changed to doing the ultra-marathoning in 50 states thing.”

Things changed for me in the midst of my first 2010 marathon event on March 7th: Little Rock. For Little Rock I left my Garmin watch off of my wrist and ran with my heart, only taking note of my first mile split to assist me in not going out at too hot of a pace. I experienced a couple rough patches during the event but managed to improve on my Des Moines performance and clocked a time of 3 hours, 21 minutes, and 7 seconds. That performance changed things for me in the confidence department. Suddenly I was confident that what I did at Des Moines was not a fluke. I even started to think that I could see more marathon personal records and possibly even a Boston-Qualifying performance in 2010.

After an amazing 50k experience in Chicago on March 27th, I let Rob-the-Racer loose at the Frisco Marathon on April 17th. I went after an even-split Boston-Qualifying effort and was able to stay on it for 20 miles before the wheels started to wobble. I did not Boston-Qualify at that event, but I did get closer than I ever had with a new personal marathon record time of 3 hours, 19 minutes, and 18 seconds.

My last chance of the Spring racing season to qualify for Boston was on May 22nd at the Fargo Marathon. On paper the event looked totally ideal for a smoking fast marathon performance. When race day arrived the warmer temperatures appeared to be a deal breaker for me, but I decided to go for it and see how things unfold. After 11 miles I started sliding off the pace, and by mile 20 Boston-Qualifying was out of reach.

Coming into the Fall marathoning season, I shifted from gunning for a combination of a personal marathon record and Boston-Qualification to just making the qualifying standard for 2012 event. Because of my 39th Birthday, if I can repeat my Frisco performance I will qualify for the 2012 Boston Marathon. The standard for me now is: 3 hours, 20 minutes and 59 seconds instead of 3 hours, 15 minutes and 59 seconds.

The Steamtown Marathon on October 10th looked like an ideal Boston-Qualification opportunity. It is reportedly one of the fastest courses in the country. This time to Boston Qualify I did not need to run a personal best, I just had to find a way to repeat the time I ran back in April. I attempted to run super smart and let the early drop in elevation help me bank energy for when I would need it in the later miles. Finally during the 19th mile I was taken off my target pace via a bathroom emergency.

Six days later I was at the starting line of the Indianapolis Marathon, and even though I was still sore from running downhill in Scranton, I wanted to let Rob-the-Racer give it another go. At Indianapolis I did not go for an even split effort, I actually took it out a little hotter in the early miles in an attempt to get a cushion. The combination of residual fatigue from Steamtown and the hotter early pace took Rob-the-Racer down very quick. By the 10th mile I had resolved to finish the first half strong and then use a run-walk-combination for the second half as training for the Mother Road 100.

On November 14th I accomplished my primary running goal of 2010: I finished a 100 mile ultra-marathon. The buzz of that accomplishment has inspired me more than ever to set goals and do the necessary training to complete those goals. I am no longer just dreaming of Boston-Qualifying, I am dreaming of a sub-3 hour marathon performance.

Three days before the Rocket City marathon I decided to once again let Rob-the-Racer loose. I was not overly optimistic about what I would be able to do in Huntsville because I knew my running system was still not 100% recovered from what I put it through during the Mother Road 100. I wanted to use the event as a training opportunity. I figured whatever unfolded out there, if I could fight through it, I would make myself stronger for future racing efforts.

My main-running-bro, Scott Griffith, picked me up at 6 AM on Friday December 10th and we hit the road for Huntsville. The road travel went smooth and the trip was not overly on the long side. One of the things we enjoyed conversing about along the way was our event schedule for 2011.

Our first stop in Huntsville was at the event expo. We picked up our race packets without any issues and enjoyed checking out some of the good buys available via the expo vendors.

Our second stop was at our motel. As we drove in we observed an Olive Garden across the street and decided that it would be a good place for some pre-race carbo-loading.

We hit Olive Garden before the rush arrived and then visited Walmart to pick up some last minute race fuel, gear, etc. Scott helped me come up with the idea for a rip away shirt that I could wear for the first portion of the marathon.

When we got back to the motel, we made sure all our gear was set out and ready to go and I snuck out for a 1 mile run in my new marathon racing shoes [the Nike LunaRacers]. The area of Huntsville that I ran through appeared to be a bit dangerous so I was glad to return to the motel safe and sound.

After an excellent night of sleep we awoke to an ideal marathoning forecast. The anticipated cold rain had shifted to later in the day and the temperature was already in the lower 40s.

We left our motel at 6:30 AM and the drive to the race headquarters was a piece of cake. We found an excellent parking spot and then went in and hung out with the other runners. A highlight was meeting up with a few of the Marathon Maniacs that were participating in this event and exchanging marathon stories.

All of my pre-race-rituals were accomplished without any issues.

15 minutes before the race was scheduled to start, one of the race directors encouraged us to head outside and get in our appropriate spots behind the starting line. Once I got outside I did a few light striders just to get the blood circulating and to get my heart rate up a little bit. The Rocket City lining up system worked great for me and I was pleased to be starting just behind the timing mats.

The Race

The start went smooth and I quickly discovered myself right behind the 3:10 pacer. I also quickly discovered that he was very obnoxious and I had no intentions of trying to stick too close to him. I was targeting mile splits between 7:20 and 7:30, and at the very least 7:37. I did not wear my Garmin watch for this event but did intend to track my mile splits by manually attaining them via my Timix and the mile markers. With my targeted splits I envisioned that I would be running between the 3:10 and the 3:15 pacers. The 3:10 pacer clearly wanted to communicate to those around him that 3:10 was a cake walk for him. I found that a bit disturbing and was hopeful that he would soon be out of my hearing range.

The first mile felt great. I was committed to not taking it out too fast and it helped to know that I was running behind the 3:10 group. Mile 1 time: 7:26.

The second mile included visuals of some very beautiful historic homes. I was relaxed and enjoying the run. Mile 2 time: 7:16.

Just prior to the mile 3 marker we ran past the Huntsville Hospital and I found myself hoping that none of the runners ended up there. Mile 3 time: 7:17.

The next couple of miles went smooth. I did converse a little bit with an older gentleman that appeared to be running at my exact pace. He was a local and had done this marathon numerous times. Mile 4 time: 7:23.

Mile 5 time: 7:21.

During the 6th mile the older gentleman dropped back and I was running alone again. When I am in race-mode I keep my talking to a minimum, therefore I am not really concerned with having someone to converse with nor am I even interested. Mile 6 time: 7:27.

When I arrived at the 7th mile marker I encountered my first issue of the day. I was committed to using the provided aid and not carrying any liquid on me. Just as I secured a cup of water, I noticed I was also passing the mile marker. I wanted my mile split bad enough that I discarded my cup so I could use my hand on my watch. I was disappointed that I was not able to get that water and thought it would have been nice if they put that aid station 10 yards past the marker. Mile 7 time: 7:25.

Just after the 7th mile marker the course took us through an underpass tunnel. A few yards past the tunnel the 3:15 pacer and his group came past me. I was a bit surprised by this. Given my splits I did not anticipate seeing them at this point. I stayed with them a bit but didn’t push myself into changing my tempo and momentum. I thought to myself that if I stay between the 3:15 pacer and the 3:20 pacer I would Boston-Qualify, and that would be glorious of course. I was pleased to discover a bonus aid station during this mile and was thankful to get some water to replace the cup I had to discard at the mile 7 aid station. Mile 8 time: 7:34.

For the 9th mile I stayed relaxed, and I focused on being as efficient as possible. I recall passing a couple of runners who were falling away from the 3:15 pacer. Mile 9 time: 7:29.

Mile 10: 7:27.

Just prior to the 10th mile marker the course turned on to Bailey Cove Road. From studying the course map prior to the race, I was aware that I would be heading South on this road for about the next 5 miles. The road had cones giving us a section to run and I found that the flattest part of the road was nearest to the cones, thus I ran as close to the cones as possible for the next 5 miles. After 10 miles I got a big burst of endorphins. This is very common for me after 10 miles. From past experiences I have learned that this is not a license to pick up the pace. For the next mile I went into nap-mode, I would literally close my eyes and attempt to get my heart rate as low as possible. Mile 11: 7:18.

Coming through the mile 12 marker I had the same experience I had at the mile 7 marker, that is, they put the aid station immediately before the marker and to get my split I had to discard my water. Mile 12: 7:32.

Mile 13: 7:33.

Half-marathon time: 1h:37m:26s (mile average of 7:25). I was pleased with my half-marathon split, I thought it might be a slight improvement on my personal best time for that distance but would have to wait until it was posted. When it was posted I was able to confirm that this is a 10 second improvement. I look forward to participating in a half-marathon event sometime in 2011 and hopefully smashing this time [I have not participated in a half-marathon event since Little Rock 03/15/2009]. I was pleased with how fresh I felt at this point in the race. I felt like I could pick up the pace a little, but I coached myself to hold back until the last 10k.

I recall forcing myself to consume some calories during the 14th mile, it seems like this always becomes increasingly difficult for me the further I get into a marathon. Mile 14: 7:35.

During the 15th mile I recall passing three or four runners who appeared to have fallen away from the 3:15 pacer. I still had the 3:15 pacer somewhat in sight. Mile 15: 7:35.

Mile 16: 7:25.

Prior to the race I was conversing with a local who had formerly participated in this event and I inquired about any noticeable hills in the later stages of the race. He informed me that he recalled a noticeable climb after the 16th mile. I kept my eye open for the climb and was committed to staying conservative during this mile. I did notice a long gradual uphill climb. Mile 17: 7:41.

Mile 18: 7:30.

During the 19th mile I started gearing up for the final 10k. All the fuel I had in my pockets started to feel heavy. Since I didn't anticipate needing it over the last 10k I started trying to find a place to dump it. I ran over to a small group of spectators and asked if I could give them my fuel and garbage. Funny thing was that it turned out to be a Packers fan that I had joked with prior to the start of the race. He made some comment about Brett Favre and said he would share my discarded fuel with his brother who was running behind me. I finally realized that he was the guy who had been encouraging me all day with “go Vikings”. Very cool. Mile 19: 7:37.

During the 20th mile I was hopeful that I would be able to stay strong for the last 10k. I had not used any walk segments to this point and I had no intentions of employing any if possible. Somehow I came up with the plan of taking a sports drink at the next aid station, walking while I consumed it, and then going the rest of the distance Alberto Salazar style, i.e., without hitting any aid stations. That next aid station appeared pretty quickly into the 20th mile and I tried my ad hoc plan. In retrospect it might have been a mistake. The sports drink seemed to hit my stomach in a strange way and those first walking steps seemed to open the door for more walking steps. Mile 20: 8:07.

Mile 21: 7:51.

I was pretty pleased to see that I had stayed under 8 minutes for the 21st mile and I was hopeful of keeping that rolling. I did get a couple waves of nausea but I coached myself that if I needed to throw up I would just throw up and keep rolling. Here the course came back through the underpass tunnel and we encountered another aid station at 21.7. I did not stick with my Alberto Salazar plan. I grabbed a water and I walked while I consumed it. When I attempted to shift back into running it wasn't pretty. The battle had really begun and soon I was throwing in walk segments left and right. Mile 22: 8:32.

The 23rd mile was where my chance of pulling off a glorious Boston-Qualification 4 weeks after my first 100 mile ultra-marathon completion slipped away. I was not able to fight off the walk segments. But thankfully I was not able to fight off the run segments either. I kept picking objects up ahead and I would run to them at a pretty good tempo. I was committed to finishing this marathon as strong as I possibly could. I was not going to throw in the towel and just stroll it in. I was going to make an effort that would stretch me and make me stronger! Mile 23: 9:33.

The 24th mile was more of the same from the 23rd mile: walking hard, running hard, lots of cussing at myself. Mile 24: 9:36.

My watch at the mile 24 marker displayed 3 hours, 5 minutes, and 39 seconds. I am not the greatest at math, but I was able to guesstimate that I would need to string together two solid 7 minute miles to get into the finish under my Boston-Qualifying standard. I let myself sulk for a few minutes and then I decided to fight for a strong sub-3:30 finish. Mile 25: 10:48.

Thankfully much of the last mile was downhill. Mile 26: 8:45.

When I turned the corner and could see the finish I noticed one runner in front of me that needed to be passed. I picked up the pace, flew by him, and literally roared into the finish! Covering the last .2 in 1 minute and 28 seconds, i.e., a 6:44 pace. I enjoyed hearing them announce my name as I came into the finish and I enjoyed the spectator support.

I really enjoyed finishing this way, of course my preference would be that I would have been able to stay on my target pace and experience a glorious Boston-Qualification, but I was proud of myself for not throwing in the towel and strolling in like I have done for all my other 2010 Fall marathons. I am confident that this effort stretched me and made me stronger for my next marathon racing effort.

Official finishing time: 3h:26m:42s (average mile time of 7:53). Results: here.

[169th out of 1,201 starters/1,147 finishers. 36th out of 133 35-39 year old male finishers]

Scott had an excellent marathoning experience in Hunstville too. He had his first negative split marathon, that is, he ran the second half faster than the first [first half: 2h:10m:12s; second half: 2h:09m:14s].

I would highly recommend this event. The logistics are extremely well run. The registration fee is very reasonable. The spectator support was solid. And the course is on the fast side.

I am registered for two marathons in January. One of them I am running with my sister, and the other one I intend to let Rob-the-Racer loose once again against that Boston-Qualification standard!

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